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Patient care — surgical procedures

Treatment of bleeding lesions: Although some cases present with black, tarry stool (melena), the blood loss can be subtle, with the anemia symptoms predominating. Fecal occult blood testing is positive when bleeding is active. If bleeding is intermittent the test may be negative at times.

photo Angiodysplasia is a small vascular malformation of the gut. It is a common cause of otherwise unexplained gastrointestinal bleeding and anemia. Lesions are often multiple, and frequently involve the cecum or ascending colon, although they can occur at other places. Treatment may be with endoscopic interventions, medication, or occasionally surgery.

If the anemia is severe, blood transfusion is required before any other intervention is considered. Endoscopic treatment is an initial possibility, where cautery or argon plasma coagulation (APC) laser treatment is applied through the endoscope. Resection of the affected part of the bowel may be needed. However, the lesions may be widespread, making such treatment impractical. Embolisation through angiography is occasionally contemplated with severely bleeding lesions that cannot be visualised on colonoscopy.

If the bleeding is from multiple or inaccessible sites, systemic therapy with medication may be necessary. First-line options include the antifibrinolytics tranexamic acid or aminocaproic acid. Estrogens can be used to stop bleeding from angiodysplasia. Estrogens cause mild hypercoaguability of the blood. Estrogen side effects can be dangerous and unpleasant in both sexes. Changes in voice and breast swelling is bothersome in men, but older women often report improvement of libido and perimenopausal symptoms. (The worries about hormone replacement therapy/HRT, however, apply here as well.)

In difficult cases, there have been positive reports about octreotide and thalidomide.

In severe cases or cases not responsive to either endoscopic or medical treatment, surgery may be necessary to arrest the bleeding.

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